Living in holes in the ground

Five small pit features dating to the early years of James Fort were found inside the fort close to the western palisade. These pits appear to have served at some point as a form of impermanent shelter during the earliest occupation of James Fort, c. 1607-10. Primary sources indicate that the “Ancient Planters” of Virginia lived in “holes within the ground,” which is what these pits likely represent. The pits may have been covered by canvas tents, some of which could have been tied to the nearby palisade wall. Ultimately, the pits were replaced by much more permanent rowhouse structures along the western wall in 1611.

The pits were artifact-rich with materials dating to the late 16th and early 17th centuries. One pit contained cahow bones, a bird unique to Bermuda, suggesting that the pit was filled in 1610. Jamestown had no contact with Bermuda until the survivors of the Sea Venture shipwreck arrived in the colony in May 1610 bringing birds, fish, and turtles with them. Other notable finds from these pits include a silver Swedish Ore of King Johan III dated 1576 (the oldest Swedish coin found archaeologically in America), an unusual green heart-shaped glass bead strung on a brass pin between two bone beads, ten brigandine plates containing their copper alloy tacks, and a curious basket-impressed clay pot. The pits also contained numerous artifacts attributed to the Virginia Indians, including a deer metacarpal bone that had been fashioned into a tool. Known as a beamer, it was a two-handled tool used to scrape hair from deer hide.


explore the artifacts